Dr Anna Krauss is the new President of CTE’s Fourth Presidency Group. Anna is also the General Secretary of the Council of Lutheran Churches in Great Britain.
As her term of office begins, CTE’s Senior Communications Manager, Sarah Ball (SB), spoke to Dr Anna Krauss (AK).
SB: Congratulations on being received as a CTE President. How does it feel to hold this position?
AK: It is very early days and I don’t quite know yet. I am a comparatively young woman and represent the lay ministry in church leadership, which sets me apart from the other Presidents but is also an expression of the diversity and reality of church life. I am ready to explore the Presidency in all its aspects and I know that the churches of the Fourth Presidency Group can make an important contribution to CTE’s mission of Christian unity.
SB: What was your first ecumenical experience?
AK: I grew up in Bavaria, Germany, where religious education in school from year one is compulsory and separated into classes for Protestants and Roman Catholics, so in a way, ecumenism, or the lack thereof, was a part of growing up.
The first significant ecumenical experience I remember was in my teens. A Catholic friend asked me to join the team of helpers at a first-communion weekend. Everyone knew that I was Protestant, and the priest and I had agreed that I would not be able to receive Communion during the Sunday service. The Sunday arrived and we stood in a circle to receive communion. The priest came up to me and I was expecting to receive some kind of blessing. Instead, he asked: ‘Would you like to receive Communion?’ I was stunned and remember thinking: Is he testing me? I needed to make a decision quickly. The safest option, I thought, was to stick to our original ‘ecumenical agreement’ and I said no.
The priest left straight after the service and I was surrounded by a bunch of curious nine-year-olds asking me all sorts of deeply complicated theological questions. I can’t say that this lit the fire of ecumenical passion inside me, but it was the first time I felt ‘ecumenically’ puzzled and somehow frustrated.
SB: So, how did your passion for ecumenism develop?
AK: I’d always had friends that were involved in different Christian traditions but the point at which I got actively involved in ecumenism was in my second year at university. The leader of the Protestant Ecumenical Institute in Germany came to give two courses and I thought they were really interesting. Right after that term, I did a year abroad at Aberdeen University. I had always lived in a Lutheran-majority area and felt confident in my Lutheran identity. Scotland, however, is really not the place where you will find many of us. So, I threw myself into one ecumenical experience after another in both the Church of Scotland and with the Roman Catholic student chaplaincy. There my views on certain matters were challenged considerably. When I returned to Germany, I asked whether I could do an internship at the Ecumenical Institute, which developed into a job that I did while I was finishing my degree. A degree in theology in Germany takes six or seven years on average! Ecumenism has been a part of my life ever since.
SB: What do you think are the current challenges facing ecumenism in England?
This is an interesting question as I look at it both from an outsider and an insider perspective. What makes English ecumenism, as visible in CTE, so unique is its breadth. I don’t know of any other national ecumenical network that has such large number of churches representing the various Christian church traditions. This is both its biggest strength and its biggest potential weakness. How can this large group of churches find a constructive and impactful way forward together without leaving anyone behind? Will we be stuck in the ‘ecumenical shallows’ because we cannot agree to disagree on certain issues for now?
I think the theological questions English ecumenism is facing are broadly the same as in many other ecumenical bodies. These are questions about human sexuality as well as gender and social, racial and climate justice. How effective we will be in tackling these issues will depend on our ability to develop and maintain a common ecumenical understanding and vision.
SB: You are part of an inter-church family. Your husband is an Anglican vicar. Does ecumenism impact parish life?
AK: Our inter-church marriage is thankfully not a challenging situation. Lutherans and Anglicans across the globe have some of the deepest, most unifying ecumenical agreements in place (in our case the Porvoo Agreement). I think the pastoral impact of ecumenical agreements is often overlooked. They are not just lofty theological documents that an elite group of clerics ruminate over every now and then. They have a very real and very deep impact on people’s personal lives. My husband and I recognise differences in our faith, both theologically and practically speaking, but we use them as catalysts to develop a richer form of discipleship.
I am not sure what effect my Presidency will have in my husband’s churches – there are eight of them! At home, I am the vicar’s wife, whatever that means. I preach occasionally and lead a bible study group and I’m sure ecumenical themes are bound to creep in because of my ‘day job’.
SB: After the last four years, how important is it for the churches in the Fourth Presidency Group that you will be fully occupying this role?
AK: The last four years were challenging and painful for individuals, the Fourth Presidency Group and CTE as a whole. The ’empty chair’ is a wound that has not fully healed, and we are committed to contributing constructively to the ongoing debate at CTE’s Living with Diversity Working Group. We, the Fourth Presidency are a diverse group of churches that certainly do not agree on everything. But a seed of hope has definitely sprouted in our group. Under Hannah’s guidance, we have developed a warm and collegial way to meet and discuss the situation in our churches and ecumenical matters on a regular basis. The challenges of the last years have helped us to strengthen our relationships and we want to continue on this path.
On 3 July 2023 Churches Together in England and The Council of Lutheran Churches in Great Britain hosted an ecumenical service at The Finnish Church in London to welcome Anna to her role.